Over Christmas break I found myself with time to nestle into a couch and burrow into books with a leisure that school semesters rarely allow. I took my time entering new worlds conjured up through poetry and memoir. Two of the books I was fortunate enough to read–Hook and Instead of Dying–were written by the next two guests for the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series, and they will both be on campus to read their work this Thursday, February 1, at 7:00 P.M. My emotions were caught in the heist of these crafty authors’ words. I knew from the dust jackets that their works would make a grab for my heartstrings, but I did not anticipate how tightly they would grip me.
Hook by Randall Horton introduced me to a world that I’d never imagined before reading. I’ve always admired memoirists for their ability to sift through memory with honesty and courage. Randall’s work is exceptional in this regard. He shares his journey through addiction, incarceration and eventual rehabilitation. He writes with a natural poeticism and earnestness, which allowed me to empathize with what I would’ve thought an incomprehensible world; instead, Horton graciously invited me into a story ripe with the human condition.
In her own distinct fashion, Lauren Haldeman wooed me from the moment I laid eyes on the cover of Instead of Dying. It expresses a sort of whimsy with its sketch of two wolves holding a stream of colors reminiscent of Funfetti. Her vocabulary is rich with nostalgia and tenderness as she honors the most innocent memories such as birthdays and “the way the candles and cake arrive.”
Haldeman’s book drew up long-buried memories from licking the strawberry frosting on my fourth birthday cake to stargazing with my father. This nostalgia made the core of her poetry–the grieving process following her brother’s death–hit with an intensity paralleled by the soft grace of her imagery. I toted this book with me to coffee shops and airports only to find myself crying in these most public places. Haldeman’s words, though gentle, prodded me and stirred buried sentiments of family memories and the fragility and importance of relationships.
Horton and Haldeman both display an aptitude for the “white hot center” that Robert Olen Butler describes as the key virtue of any skilled author. Their fearlessness hums in their writing and shakes each page. I look forward to meeting them this Thursday, February 1, as they join us for the first event of the Spring 2018 Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series, where they will bring both voice and insight to their books.
Please join these fine writers at the 3:30 P.M. Q&A session in the Martha Miller Center’s Fried-Hemenway Auditorium and at the 7:00 P.M. reading in the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts.
For more information on these events, visit the Jack Ridl Visiting Writers Series website.